European Football Round-Up // December 4

Diego Simeone’s Atletico draw level with Barca at the summit of La Liga. There was a cracker at Hoffenheim with there being just the eight goals scored. Not much better in boring Serie A with just seven goals in the Fioentina vs. Hellas Verona game.. In Germany it was business as usual for Pep’s Bayern while PSG continue to dominate Ligue 1 with consummate ease..

 

The big talking point in Spain this week came from Barcelona following proceedings at the San Memes in which Barca lost 1-0 in a turgid affair. It’s not necessarily the result which is the talking point but what it prompted – the debate around Barcelona’s identity and what Martino has made of it since his arrival in the summer. The fact that a debate regarding philosophy exists proves somewhat that Barca are different in some respects.

Only recently Barca completed a game with less than 50% in La Liga in over four years. The style is fading and with that cules are beginning to question whether Martino was the right choice for manager. All of this comes with the fact he was a game away from statistically having the best start – result wise of course, of any Barcelona manager ever. Odd indeed.

While Barca struggled it was business as usual for Atletico who travelled to Elche and won 0-2. Unsurprisingly Diego Costa scored again which makes it 15 for the season and notably of those 15 goals they’ve been spread out across 12 matches; ruthless efficiency from the Brazilin turned Spaniard.

In Madrid there was the crowning of the ‘Prince of Wales’ as Madrid based newspaper Marca put it following Gareth Bale’s ‘perfect hat trick’ (right foot, left foot and a header). Madrid won 4-0 and is now only three points behind Barca and Atletico.

Real Betis drew 2-2 with Rayo Vallecano in a bottom of the table class which was to be the end of Pepe Mel’s tenure at Betis. It would be unsurprising to see him picked up at a top club in the near future – perhaps Valencia who despite winning 3-0 at home to Osasuna (thanks to a Jonas hat trick) I feel manager Miroslav Djukic’s safety as Valencia coach is a ticking time bomb. Despite the slight upturn in form in recent weeks his popularity remains non existent. Oh and one more thing on La Liga – Sevilla won away, again!

In Germany it was frankly business as usual for the most part; Bayern swept aside Braunschweig 2-0. Once again Gotze played as a false nine in which he provided an assist. Dortmund travelled to Klopp’s old club Mainz and won 1-3. There was a cracker at Hoffenheim as they draw at home 4-4 to Bremen. Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen beat Nurnberg at home easily with a 3-0 score line and Gladbach remain on place for European football next season as they won 1-0 at home to Freiburg.

In Italy the story of the weekend was a non-football one, as there was another u-turn in the Galliani soap opera at AC Milan. It seems he won’t be leaving – or resigning, after what seemed like an end to the 27 year marriage at the absolute height of football dominance both in Italy and in Europe. Looking happy to try and turn around his beloved AC Milan’s fortunes he saw them win 1-3 away at Catania. Though sadly, once again there was talk of racist abuse as Mario Balotelli accused Catania’s Nicolas Spolli of racially abusing him. Should he be found guilty a ten game ban will follow following Serie A’s new racism regulations which seem a case of better late than never.

In Serie A there were notable draws for table-topping Juventus who only managed a 1-1 draw at home to Udinese while second place Roma drew their third league game in a row. Napoli however travelled to the Stadio Olimpico and beat Lazio 2-4. The game of the weekend though, if only from an attacking viewpoint, occurred at Fiorentina as they beat newly promoted Hellas Verona 4-3. Boring Italy, as they say.

Finally in France PSG continue to look like champions elect as they beat the once-mighty Lyon 4-0 at home. Lille won 1-0 (again) which makes it 11 clean sheets in a row. Staggering. Monaco needed new-boy James Rodriguez to finally step up to the mark as they were without Falcao – and the Portuguese winger stepped up in fine fashion as he scored in a 0-3 win away at Nice.

Kevin Kelly

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OBSCURE XI’S // WEEK TWO – TALL VS. SHORT

After a successful first edition of the feature, Pitchside are back, with our Obscure XI’s. The Balded XI is currently ahead in the voting for week one, though the Bearded side will take solace in the fact ITV commentator Clarke Carlisle tipped the team for victory. This week panelists George Pacitto and Jak Harris go head to head. George will compile a tall XI while Jak will be going with, you guessed it, a short XI. Let’s meet the teams…

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Tall XI – Republic of Heighty – 4-4-2

The Gaffer – Sam Allardyce – 6″3′:

A scarier manager you will struggle to find. Famously described by Jose Mourinho as the manager he would least like to fight, “Big” Sam notoriously turns his football sides into well-drilled, efficient but unspectacular machines. After declaring himself “more suited” to a Real Madrid or Inter Milan in 2010, I’m sure everybody would like to see how Allardyce would handle this team of superstars.

Goalkeeper – Petr Cech – 6″5′:

A mainstay of the Chelsea and Czech Republic goal for many years now, Petr Cech has been a hugely consistent performer who holds the current record for Premier league clean sheets. Although some say he has not been the same since his horrific head injury in 2006, it probably gives him an extra half an inch in height and a nod into my Tall XI.

Right-back – Vedran Corluka – 6″4′:

It’s a tough world for tall full-backs out there, known primarily for their versatility and filling in in the centre of defence. Corluka has not let an abundance of height and a lack of pace allowing him to play at every level within the Croatian national team, and represent the senior side 70 times.

Centre-back – Per Mertesacker – 6″6′:

The BFG (Big F*cking German) gets a place within the Tall XI despite his hideous Arsenal connections. Once derided by expert FIFA-playing pundits for his lack of pace, Mertesacker has become a necessity in a defence that has helped Arsenal to the top of the Premier League. He should hit 100 caps for Germany during the World Cup, a nod to the big man’s longevity at the top.

Yes Per! You are the tallest in the tall XI!

Yes Per! You are the tallest in the tall XI!

Centre-back – Vincent Kompany – 6″4′:

Once the man to buy in earlier series of Football Manager (whatever happened to Anthony Vanden Borre?), Kompany is one of those rare instances when he has exceeded that potential. The Manchester City defence is simply held together by the Belgian. As well as being a terrific footballer and general nice guy, Kompany also owns a Belgian third division side, for “the youngsters of Brussels”

Left-back – Jerome Boateng – 6″4′:

One man who did not quite hold the Citizen’s defence together in his time there was Jerome Boateng. However, since joining Bayern Munich, he played a major role in winning the Treble, with the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League won in one season. He has 36 caps for the German national side, and should be a first-team regular for the upcoming World Cup.

Right-midfielder – Marko Arnautovic 6″4′:

Tall wingers are few and far between, and with this the inclusion of the “bad boy of Austrian football” is justified. A recent move to Stoke City followed spells at Twente, Inter on loan and Werder Bremen. His 25-yard free kick this season against Manchester City is a clear indication of the talent that caught the eye of Premier League managers.

Centre-midfielder – Yaya Toure – 6″4′:

The lynchpin of the current Manchester City side, Yaya Toure is consistently named within the top 20 players in world football, and up there with the very best in his position. His tireless running, box-to-box athleticism make him impossible to mark for many sides who face him, and near enough irreplaceable in both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini’s sides. Did I mention that he won a Champions League with Barcelona?

Centre-midfielder –  Nemanja Matic – 6″4′:

Discarded by Chelsea as part of the deal to bring David Luiz to Stamford Bridge, the Serbian international has gone from strength to strength at Estadio da Luz. So much that he is being linked with transfers to clubs such as Manchester United and, ironically, Chelsea. Denied trophies last season due to Benfica’s impossibly bad luck, it is hard to see Matic not filling his medal cabinet up in the next couple of years.

Left-midfielder – Jérémy Mathieu – 6″3′:

Included not only because of his heroic exploits for me back in the good old days of Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (nine Champions League’s in nine seasons), Mathieu is an unorthodox winger, who can play at centre-back. Currently standing at two French caps, his versatility is a key asset in this Tall XI. And there wasn’t anybody else that was tall enough. But enough of that.

Striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 6″5′:

One man who certainly does not make up the numbers is Zlatan. In fact, if he had picked the team himself, there probably wouldn’t be anybody else in there. He has a league title in Holland, Italy, Spain and France, will surely surpass the Swedish goalscoring record (he needs two), and scored probably the best goal I’ve ever seen in a game against England. No team is complete without Zlatan.

Striker – Fernando Llorente 6″5′:

Llorente is a man with a smaller ego than Ibrahimovic, but with no less striking ability. A [former] legend for Athletic Bilbao, and once the most sought-after player in Europe, he incredibly ended up moving for free in the summer to Juventus. A partnership with Ibrahimovic would surely scare every defender in the world football.

And the opposition…

Short XI – Oompa Lumpa Athletic – 4-1-2-1-2

The Gaffer – Gianfranco Zola – 5″6′:

A team this talented needs a manager who possessed the same world class ability during his playing days and so Zola gets the nod. A Chelsea legend and voted their best ever player in 2004, Zola progressed into management with West Ham United.

After a shaky start, he developed the Hammers into a side that played with flair and also integrated youth into the side. However, after a disappointing second season, his contract was terminated two days after the end of the season.

His second managerial position, at Watford, brought more early success with his team scoring for fun and playing attractive football. Zola led them to a third-place finish and a Wembley Play-Off final appearance against Crystal Palace; unfortunately they lost to an extra-time penalty from Kevin Phillips.

Goalkeeper – Óscar Pérez Rojas – 5”7’:

Currently playing for Pachuca, in his native Mexico, Rojas has been capped 54 times for Mexico and was their first choice goalkeeper at both the 2002 and 2010 World Cups. He made 416 appearances for Cruz Azul and has also scored two stoppage time equalizers in his career, one for Cruz Azul against Estudiantes Tecos in 2006 and the other for Mexico U-23 against South Korea in 1995.

Right Back – Paul Parker – 5”7’:

Credited with two assists in England’s loss to Germany in the 1990 World Cup, Parker was the unfortunate player who after deciding to charge down a Germany free kick was struck with the ball which ended up looping over Peter Shilton to give Germany the lead. He later made amends with a long ball forward which found Gary Lineker in the German penalty area, allowing England’s main man to poke the ball into the goal. Parker came into the World Cup as back up for Gary Stevens, but left as first choice and one of England’s tournament successes.

Signed for £2 million by Manchester United in 1991, Parker was United’s main man at right back until frequent injury and the emergence of Gary Neville called time on his Old Trafford career in 1996. He went on to play for Derby County, Sheffield United as well Fulham, Chelsea and Farnborough Town (All in 1997). He later managed Chelmsford City and Welling United.

Centre Back – Roberto Ayala – 5”9’:

Don’t let his nickname ‘el Raton’, which means The Mouse, fool you. Regarded as one of the best central defender of his generation, Ayala captained the Argentine national side a record 63 times. He appeared in three World Cups and made a total of 115 appearances for his country as well as playing for sides such as Napoli, AC Milan, Valencia and Villarreal. While at Valencia he was named UEFA Club Best Defender of the Year for the 2000-2001 season.

Centre Back – Fabio Cannavaro – 5”9’:

Given the name ‘Muro di Berlino’, which means ‘The Berlin Wall’, Cannavaro is regarded as the best defender of his generation. Cannavaro was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2006 becoming only the second defender to be awarded the title after Lothar Matthaus, and also the oldest recipient of the award. Due to Juventus being found guilty of match fixing, the two Serie A titles he won during his time at ‘The Old Lady’ were revoked meaning the only league titles Cannavaro won were the two consecutive La Liga’s won during his time at Real Madrid. He is Italy’s most capped player with 136 appearances to his name and he captained the side from 2002 through to 2010, taking over the role following Paolo Maldini’s retirement.

Left Back – Roberto Carlos – 5”6’:

A return to Pitchside XI’s this week for the bald and very short Brazilian. Part of Real Madrid’s ‘Galactico’ era, Carlos spent most of his career with the Spanish Giants. A master of set pieces – ask Fabian Barthez – and the proud owner of blistering pace, Roberto Carlos won trophy after trophy during his ten seasons with Madrid. Described as “The most offensive-minded left back in the history of the game”, the little Brazilian almost joined Middlesbrough from Inter Milan in 1995 along with Juninho, but opted for the Spanish capital instead (I wonder why??).

Currently managing Sivasspor in Turkey, Carlos played over 600 club games in his career scoring an impressive 75 goals from left back. If you haven’t already seen them, then I suggest you watch his ‘bannana’ free kick against France in 97’ and also his by-line volley against CD Tenerife in 98’.

CDM – Claude Makelele – 5”7’:

As one of my favourite ever players – I class Owen Hargreaves as another, so you can see his appeal – I’m yet to hear of another player who has a position named after him, the ‘Makelele role’ – sat just in front of the defence – is a tribute to one of the finest defensive midfielders to ever grace the turf. A king at breaking up opponents play, a quick mind and positioning sense were keys to Makelele’s success.

Following his transfer to Chelsea in 2003 the then Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez claimed that Madrid would not miss him due to his “average technique” and the fact the jobs he did weren’t basically Galactico worthy… Zinedine Zidane however, had a different take on it, saying “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the engine?”

Makelele was overlooked by the hierarchy at Madrid for not possessing the same attributes as Zidane, Raul, Guti etc. but was held in high esteem by his peers, his absence showed as following his sale, the Galactico-era started to come crumbling down.

RCM – Mathieu Valbuena – 5”6’:

Released by Bordeaux after two seasons playing in their U-18 squad with the likes of Rio Mavuba and Marouane Chamakh, Valbuena spent three seasons playing amateur football, first for Langan-Castets in the fifth division of French football and then Libourne who played in the third tier in the French footballing pyramid.

He signed his first professional deal in 2006 with Marseille, where he has been ever since. He has been given the nickname ‘Le Petit Velo’ which translates into ‘The Small Bike’, a reference to his size and also Marseille’s home ground, Stade Veldrome.

Mathieu Valbuena makes the short XI a full foot shorter than Mertesacker.

Mathieu Valbuena makes the short XI a full foot shorter than Mertesacker.

Deployed as either an attacking midfielder, wide midfielder our out and out winger, Valbuena offers searing pace along with dribbling ability and the attributes to be used as a playmaker for the team.

In a time when all young footballers are given what they want to them on a plate, Valbuena deserves credit for the fight he put in to have a career in the professional game. From rejection at Bordeaux he has fought his way onto the world stage and has become a key player for not only his club but for his country too.

LCM – Edgar Davids – 5”7’:

Dubbed “The Pitbull” by then Netherlands manager, Louis Van Gaal, Davids used to roam the centre of the park sporting his distinctive shades due to suffering from glaucoma. Easily at home, either tenaciously breaking up opponent attacks or creating chances for teammates, Davids was a fine centre midfielder who was chosen by Pele to feature in FIFA’s Top 100 Living Footballers.

Currently manager at Barnet where he is unfortunately making a bit of a fool of himself with erratic behaviour – naming himself captain and giving himself the No. 1 squad number – it would be a shame for his latest exploits to cloud over an illustrious playing career with Ajax, AC Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Spurs and ummm Crystal Palace….

CAM – Xavi – 5”7’:

The little Spaniard is a master with the ball at his feet; calm under pressure and a razor sharp footballing mind make him a dangerous opponent.

Worked his way through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and has progressed to be one of their greatest ever players, also holds the record for most trophies won by a Spanish player in their career.

Part of the trio, alongside Iniesta and Messi, that started of the recent domination by the Catalan club.

Striker – Lionel Messi – 5”’7:

As a child, Messi was told that he would never make it as a footballer because he was too small. Six La Liga titles, Two Copa del Rey’s, six Supercopa de Espana’s, three Champions League’s, Two Super Cup’s, two FIFA Club World Cup’s, one Olympic Gold Medal, one U-20 World Cup and four Ballon d’Or’s says differently, eh?

Striker – Romario 5”7’ :

One of the few to surpass the 1000 goal mark in their career and is the second most prolific goalscorer in the history of the game, Romario is a true Brazilian great.

Spent a vast amount of his career in Brazil but also had success in Europe with PSV and Barcelona.

Currently a politician back home in Brazil and has spoken out against many FIFA members including Sepp Blatter. Is one of many who believe the World Cup in 2018 was ‘bought’ by the Russians and ‘stolen’ from England.

and of course…

The Chairmen – George Pacitto & Jak Harris

Costa picking up where Falcao left off // European Football Roundup

Bale continues to find form in Madrid while Diego Costa steals the show as La Liga’s standout performer. Elsewhere there were shocks in Serie A, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga…

Finally it seems Gareth Bale is beginning to find his place among Ancelotti’s Madrid side. After impressing last week in scoring twice and assisting twice in the bonkers 7-3 win at home to Sevilla Bale continued his upward curve of form with two assists against the high-pressing Rayo Vallecano in a 2-3 win for Madrid.

Real Madrid was unconvincing on the night and they needed a Ronaldo brace and a goal from Benzema to scrape a win. If Ancelotti is to escape further criticism from the ravenous Spanish press then Madrid must begin to play with more authority. What’s certainly not helping Ancelotti is the form is Diego Simeone’s men who continue to play like arguably the best side in Europe.

Atletico Madrid hosted Atletic Bilbao on Sunday night in which it was business as usual – Diego Costa starring the show while David Villa also bagging a goal which leaves Ateltico right on the heels of the thus far table topping Barcelona. Costa has now scored 13 league goals in 12 matches and is surely going to be on the top of the shopping list for many of Europe’s most wealthy clubs this January. Tito Martino will surely be looking over his shoulder as Atletico finally look to have a squad and mentality to put up a sustained challenge for the title.

Diego Costa celebrates his 13th goal of the season against Bilbao.

Diego Costa celebrates his 13th goal of the season against Bilbao.

It was the Catalonian derby on Friday night as Barca hosted Espanol. Whilst in recent years Espanol have been dubbed ‘the anti Barca’ in terms of style it seems Barcelona may be heading somewhat into that direction. Once again Barca looked short of ideas up and with little intelligent movement. It took a second half strike from in-from Alexis Sanchez to seal the win for Barca to remain at the top of the table who have only dropped two points so far with 11 wins and one draw.

In France PSG seem to have finally broken away from Monaco who lost away to Lille 2-0 who now move into second place. Despite the absence of Ibrahimovic PSG cantered to a 4-0 victory at home to Lorient with the Uruguayan Edison Cavani stealing show the show as he scored twice.

In Germany there was a shock as Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen loosened their grip on second place Borussia Dortmund as they shockingly lost away to Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0. The aforementioned Borussia Dortmund hosted Stuttgart on Friday night in a 6-1 mauling. Despite going 1-0 down very early on to a neat header by Karim Haggui, the hosts came roaring right back, scoring twice in quick succession and eventually emerging with a 6-1 victory. Lewandowski looked in scintillating form as he netted a second half hat-trick. It seems the Polish striker, who is set to leave for league leaders Bayern Munich in January will do so in smashing form.

Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich won again and it doesn’t seem like they’ll stop anytime soon. Despite facing a Hoffenheim side who certainly made them work hard for the victory they came out on top in a 1-2 win. Despite going 1-0 down in the 1st half the Croatian Mario Mandzukic levelled things up soon after and in the 75th minute Thomas Muller scored the winner which saw Bayern equalled yet  another record (you’d assume they’ll set a new one quite soon!)  – something which usually follows a Pep Guardiola side, it seems). Bayern’s win meant they have now played 36 league game without loss – a record which was set 30 years ago by Hamburg’s 82-83 side. Bayern’s last defeat was in October 2012 to Bayer Leverkusen.

Finally we look to Italy where there was joy for Inter, and utter despair for the counterparts AC. Last season Inter were doing exactly what AC are doing now – playing awfully without any style or cohesion. Despite the addition of Kaka it seems Allegri’s men are doing everything in their powers – or lack of, to finally see him given the sack. AC hosted Fiorentina in the San Siro yet looked lacklustre in every department. Fiorentina continue to look at exciting side as they swept AC aside in a 2-0 win.

As mentioned previous Inter have serious turned their fortunes around this year and look on course to challenge for Champions League football as they travelled to Udinese and convincingly won 0-3.

Juventus won again away at Parma 0-1, though it took a late Paul Pogba goal to seal the victory. It seems Juve have lost the spark they had in the previous two seasons in which the secured the Scudetto. The recent change of formation from 352 to 433 indicates Conte is trying to reinvigorate his side, not unlike the changes Pep Guardiola implemented throughout his tenure as Barca boss.

The story to the weekend in Serie A and perhaps Europe is that of Roma who left Turin with a 1-1 draw and the ending of a sensational start to the season. Despite selling three key players in Lamela, Osvaldo and Marquinhos in the summer they began the season in unprecedented form having won all 10 games, scoring 24 and conceding just once. Last night though, as the run came to a frustrating end, Rudi Garcia can be proud of their start of to the season as they sit top of Serie A three points clear of Napoli and Juventus. They’d have taken that if they were handed it in August, that’s for sure…

 Kevin Kelly